A superb, if currently obscure, roleplaying game written by John Tynes, Puppetland, “a storytelling game with strings in a grim world of make-believe,” is an incredible tour-de-force of RPG design, full of a great many new ideas and vivid images, clearly visualized and assembled into an extremely cohesive whole. Yes, the game is that good.

The evil Punch has killed the Maker, the good human who created Puppettown, Maker’s Land, and most of its inhabitants, and now rules it with a heavy wooden fist. Now cloaked in a mask made from the skin of the Maker’s face, he is served by his hordes of Nutcracker soldiers and Punch’s Boys, six special demonic puppets made from the flesh of the Maker. Judy, Punch’s former lover, now leads the resistance and assists the player characters in thwarting Punch’s plans, protecting the innocent puppets of this world, and maybe even eventually defeating Punch and his minions and restoring the Maker to life with his last tear, kept safe by Judy in a silver thimble.

Puppetland is termed a “storytelling game” by its author, and indeed it uses a system completely without dice or any form of random determination. An important part of the character sheet for this game is a portrait the player draws of his puppet character in actual size, and who is one of the four puppet types including Finger Puppets, Hand Puppets, Shadow Puppets or Marionette Puppets, in a box marked off into 16 jigsaw-piece boxes. All games are timed to last only an hour of real time. After the hour is up, all the puppets in the game, PC or NPC, good and evil, fall asleep, and at the beginning of the next session wake up safe in their beds at home, whole and sound, ready to start anew. Players play their puppet characters by speaking entirely in character, and they indicate what their characters are doing by saying things such as, to give an example from the web site, “With this hammer I now hold, I shall smash the window in!” The GM, or “puppet master,” is the sole determiner of success. If a player absolutely must speak out of character, he must stand up out of his seat to do so.

Every time a puppet does something that it is not ordinarily able to do, or if something injurious happens to that puppet during the game, one of its portrait’s sixteen jigsaw boxes is crossed out. While all physical damage is healed between sessions, jigsaw boxes (which do not represent physical locations on the puppet) are never restored. When a character runs out of those, it disappears at the end of the session and is gone forever.

The system and setting for Puppetland are nothing short of brilliant, and if you are at all interested in roleplaying games you owe it to yourself to read the original free version at http://www.johntynes.com/rl_puppetland_www.html. Note that there is now a commercially available, expanded version by Hogs Head Publishing.

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